But just as summer camps now cater to interests ranging from archery to zoology, retirement communities are springing up that let you grow old in the company of people with similar backgrounds or mutual passions that go far deeper than a shared interest in golf.
They range from communities for gay men and lesbians to centers shaped for members of specific ethnic groups. Retired military officers have formed communities around the country. Sunset Hall in Los Angeles bills itself as a ”home for free-thinking elders.”Other examples include a residence for artists in the works in Manhattan, the ElderSpirit Center, a co-housing retirement community based on spiritual principles that is opening this summer at Abingdon, Va. and an assisted-living center in Gresham, Ore., for retirees who are deaf or blind, where the employees know sign language and there are rooms with door lights instead of bells.
Experts say that one force behind the trend is the lengthened lifespan of those retiring. Choosing where to live after work is no longer mostly a matter of deciding the best place to be when you fall apart.
Decades ago, the most common kind of partnership for a retirement community was with health care companies, said Bill Silbert, the marketing director for the Kendal Corporation, which runs retirement centers operating ”in the Quaker tradition” near Cornell, Dartmouth and Oberlin. Now the partnerships are often with universities. ”Health care is an important part of the concept,” Mr. Silbert said, ”but it’s not the reason to come.”
Ron Manheimer, executive director of the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement in Asheville, N.C., said he expects to see more retirement communities in which older people can live among peers who share their specific interests and values. ”These are pretty much the people you’re going to end up living with for the rest of your life,” he said. ”People want to be with people they will be comfortable with and where there will be a high level of mutual trust.”
”The whole idea that there’s this homogenous group of elders is simply not true,” he said. ”There are cultures of aging, and there are more and more of them.”
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But living in a community aimed at a specific group has its pros and cons. Pei Yang Chang, 88, lives with his wife, Rose, at Aegis Gardens, an assisted-living center in Fremont, Calif., where everything from the food to the building design is Chinese. ”The good thing,” he said, ”is there are so many old friends. The bad thing is we are out of touch with general public. We don’t want to be too excluded.”
Robert G. Kramer, executive director of the National Investment Center for the Seniors Housing and Care Industries in Annapolis, Md., said the diversification is being driven in part by baby boomers seeking more options for their parents. This generation, he said, is used ”to forcing the market to deliver what they want; they’ve done it all their life.”
”What we see today,” Mr. Kramer said, ”will be absolutely nothing compared to what we’ll see in 10 or 15 years.”